A. Defining relative clauses
Defining relative clauses are used to give information about someone or something (a noun) – information is essential to understand what or who is being referred to.
The noun + relative pronoun + the defining relative clause.
The relative pronouns are: who, that, which, whose, whom.
They introduce a defining relative clause this way:
• They are the people who want to rent our flat.
• We should give the money to somebody who needs the treatment most.
We can also use that instead of who, whom or which.
The relative pronoun defines the subject or the object:
• They are the people who/that rent our flat. (The people rent our flat.
The people is the subject.)
• Here are some treatments which/that the researcher has discovered.
(The researcher has discovered some treatments. Some treatments is the object.)
IMPORTANT: NO COMMA
No comma is necessary in defining relative clauses:
Right: This is a woman who fights for what she wants to achieve in life.
Wrong: This is a woman, who fights for what she wants to achieve in life.
Nouns and pronouns in relative clauses
• When we use the relative pronoun as the subject of the relative clause, we don’t need other personal pronoun or noun in the relative clause to express the subject:
Right: She’s the woman who lent me money. (who is the subject of the relative clause, so we don’t need the personal pronoun she)
Wrong: She’s the woman who she lent me money.
• When we use the relative pronoun as the object of the relative clause, we don’t need other personal pronoun or noun in the relative clause to express the object.
We had a great coffee at the place which George recommended. (which is the object of the relative clause, so we don’t need the personal pronoun it)
Not: We had a great coffee at the place which George recommended it.
So, what is very important is that the information given by the defining relative clause is necessary, it is not extra, we can’t leave it out.
B. Non-defining relative clauses
When we use a non-defining relative clauses we give an extra information about some person or thing.
The information is not necessary, the speaker just wants to offer a context. We don’t really need it to understand who or what is being referred to.
The relative pronoun is important: who, which, whose, whom, we can’t skip it.
The noun + the relative pronoun + the non-defining relative clause.
• Right: David, who I work with, is getting a promotion this month.
• Wrong: David, I work with, is getting a promotion this month.
IMPORTANT: NO THAT
We can’t replace who with that to introduce a non-defining relative clause:
• Right: Maximiliano, who scored many goals during the match, got injured by the end of the match.
• Wrong: Maximiliano, that scored many goals during the match, got injured by the end of the match.
• When we write, we need two commas around non-defining relative clauses:
My uncle, who lives in Spain, is a doctor.
• When we speak: we need pause a little at the beginning and end of the clause:
The entire Romanian economy– which is the topic of our discussion – grows by 5% in the first semester of the year. (formal)
Nicole – who I’d never met before – helped me to solve my problems. (informal)
The purpose of the defining and non-defining relative clauses are very different, even if they look very similar, the meanings are completely different:
• His cousin, who works at the hospital, is a good friend of mine.
He has only one cousin, and that cousin works in a hospital, the information given is extra, just to build a bigger context, we can renounce at “who works at the hospital”, and have the same meaning
• His cousin who works at the hospital is a good friend of mine.
• He has many cousins, at least two, I’m talking about that one who works in a hospital, the information is essential, we can’t skip it, we use no comma.
The information given by a defining relative clause is essential, we can’t leave out the relative clause <=> The information in a non-defining relative clause isn’t essential, we can leave out the relative clause.
• The boy who had blue T-shirt seemed to be the most important one.
without this information we do not know which boy the speaker is referring to => the clause is a defining one.
• The tournament was finished when Simona Halep, who was number one in the world for more than a year, won in front of Serena Williams.
It is a non-defining relative clauses which we can leave out: The tournament was finished when Simona Halep won in front of Serena Williams.
We can replace who with that in defining relative clauses, but not in non-defining relative clauses:
- The girl, who came to us earlier, is my cousin.
- The girl that came to us earlier is my cousin.
Non-defining relative clauses are composed of a relative pronoun, a verb, and optional other elements such as the subject or object of the verb. Commas are always used to separate non-defining relative clauses from the rest of the sentence.
We use the relative pronouns in non-defining relative clauses. These relative pronouns are used at the start of the non-defining relative clause and always refer to a noun that appears earlier in the sentence.
- who is used for people
Jane, who is very rich, lives in a small apartment.
Jane’s father, who lives in Romania, has 3 grandchildren.
My friend Sam, who went to the same school as me, has just won to the lottery.
Laura, who had never been at sea before, doesn’t know to swim.
- which is used for animals and things
My car, which is new, has broken.
My house, which was built in 1989, is very old.
Tom’s Restaurant, which has the best food, is on Avenue Road.
I really like this T-shirt, which was a present from my boyfriend.
- whom is used for people
Ms. Bennet, whom I liked very much, got married last week.
John, whom I have never liked, was the only one who helped me.
- which is used for animals and things
My car, which I bought a few days ago, has broken.
He lives in a big flat, which he bought 2 years ago.
- where is used for places
My first house, where I spent my childhood, was sold.
I’ve just come back from Paris, where my parents live.
- whose – for people, animals, things
John, whose brother works with me, had suffered an accident car.
Yesterday I met Paul, whose wife is a teacher at same school as me.